Background: Evidence suggests that physical self-concept is associated with physical activity in children and adolescents, but no systematic review of this literature has been conducted.
Objective: The primary aim of this systematic review and meta-analysis was to determine the strength of associations between physical activity and physical self-concept (general and sub-domains) in children and adolescents. The secondary aim was to examine potential moderators of the association between physical activity and physical self-concept.
Methods: A systematic search of six electronic databases (MEDLINE, CINAHL, SPORTDiscus, ERIC, Web of Science and Scopus) with no date restrictions was conducted. Random effects meta-analyses with correction for measurement were employed. The associations between physical activity and general physical self-concept and sub-domains were explored. A risk of bias assessment was conducted by two reviewers.
Results: The search identified 64 studies to be included in the meta-analysis. Thirty-three studies addressed multiple outcomes of general physical self-concept: 28 studies examined general physical self-concept, 59 examined perceived competence, 25 examined perceived fitness, and 55 examined perceived appearance. Perceived competence was most strongly associated with physical activity (r = 0.30, 95 % CI 0.24–0.35, p < 0.001), followed by perceived fitness (r = 0.26, 95 % CI 0.20–0.32,p < 0.001), general physical self-concept (r = 0.25, 95 % CI 0.16–0.34, p < 0.001) and perceived physical appearance (r = 0.12, 95 % CI 0.08–0.16, p < 0.001). Sex was a significant moderator for general physical self-concept (p < 0.05), and age was a significant moderator for perceived appearance (p ≤ 0.01) and perceived competence (p < 0.05). No significant moderators were found for perceived fitness.
Conclusion: Overall, a significant association has been consistently demonstrated between physical activity and physical self-concept and its various sub-domains in children and adolescents. Age and sex are key moderators of the association between physical activity and physical self-concept.
Alex’s Notes: Individuals who feel good about themselves and their capabilities (aka confidence) are resilient to the challenges of life. Duh, it’s called self-esteem. It is not surprising in the least that this facilitates happiness, motivation, and other aspects of wellbeing. Of our self-esteem, perceived physical ability (or competence) is considered to be one of the main players, and a review of all this concluded that health status and self-efficacy are the “clearest correlates” of physical activity in adults. The same authors also concluded that perceived behavioral control and self-efficacy were the strongest psychological determinants of physical activity in adolescents, but did not find sufficient evidence that perceived competence was a determinant of behavior.Therefore, the primary aim of this systematic review and meta-analysis was to determine the association between physical activity and physical self-concept in young people, and also to examine potential moderators of the association between physical activity and physical self-concept.
Physical activity was leisure-time physical activity and all study participants were aged 4-20 years old. The main sub-domains of perceived physical competence were “perceived physical appearance” (body image, body attractiveness, body esteem), “perceived competence” (ability to perform sports and recreational activities), and “perceived fitness” (health-related physical fitness).
The number one takeaway is that young people with stronger beliefs about their physical characteristics are more likely to engage in physical activity. However, given this is a correlation we cannot rule out reverse causation. In other words, it is not clear if participation in physical activity leads to improvements in physical self-concept or those with high levels of physical self-concept are attracted to physical activity. Another issue here is that physical activity includes a broad range of activities including walking and biking for travel. But how hard is going for a walk? These behaviors likely don’t require high levels of perceived competence, which probably influenced the results since some studies in the meta-analysis used pedometers and accelerometers to measure leisure-time physical activity. Oh, and 84% of the studies were likely bias since much of the physical activity was self-reported (and we wouldn’t want the researchers to know how inactive you truly are, that would be embarrassing).
“The findings suggest that general physical self-concept and its sub-domains (i.e. perceived competence, perceived fitness and perceived appearance) are significantly associated with physical activity in young people. Sex was a significant moderator of the association between physical activity and general physical self-concept, with stronger associations found for boys. Age was also a significant moderator of the association between physical activity and perceived competence and perceived appearance.”
Perceived competence was found to have the strongest association, followed by perceived fitness. Age was a significant modulator, which when considering the age range of 4-20 years, makes sense. Young children haven’t developed a true “self-image”, but as we grow and age, we become more “sophisticated” and critical about ourselves and others. Those who maintain low levels of self-competence are attracted to leisure activities that do not require much in the way of fundamental and sports-specific movement skills because they don’t have the self-confidence necessary. It is sad really. I mean, lifelong fitness isn’t a competition. It is a mission to achieve optimal health and wellness.